Glenn Middleton scored the only goal of the game as St Johnstone defeated Hibernian 1-0 this afternoon at Easter Road Stadium.
Former Hibs winger Middleton returned to haunt his former club and his goal, coupled with Aberdeen’s win away to Livingston reduced Hibernian’s hold on third spot in the Scottish Premiership to three points.
The only goal of the game came midway through the first half when Ryan Porteous was guilty of an error of judgement and Middleton pounced to slot away the wayward pass.
Jack Ross made two changes for the visit of St Johnstone with Ofir Marciano replacing Matt Macey between the posts and Drey Wright coming in for the injured, Kevin Nisbet.
For Wright, it was a first start since Hibernian’s draw away to Celtic back in mid-January and he was keen to impress against his former employers.
With next weekend’s Scottish Cup semi-final in mind, visitors St Johnstone made seven changes to their side and it did little to disrupt their momentum as they started brightly.
That said, it was the hosts that carved out the first opportunity of the afternoon when Joe Newell’s free kick found the head of Christian Doidge, however it was comfortable save for goalkeeper Elliot Parish in the end.
The match was developing into a drab encounter with the teams cancelling each other out and almost the entire game being played in the middle third.
Chances were at a premium and it was going to take something special or an error to find the breakthrough. Unfortunately for Hibs, it would prove to be the latter.
There appeared little danger after Porteous showed great strength and resilience to wrestle possession from Michael O’Halloran, however the defender then attempted a pass across his penalty box that Middleton pounced upon before slotting past the helpless Marciano.
One of St Johnstone’s greatest strengths this season has been their defensive organisation and gifting them an opening goal gave the visitors something to hold onto.
St Johnstone, as they are entitled to do, defended in numbers and in doing so comfortably denied Hibs space as the home side continually ran into dead ends in the final third.
Hibernian’s best chance came in the 34th minute when a wonderful cross from Jackson Irvine picked out the run of Martin Boyle ghosting in behind the St Johnstone defence and his first-time volley was acrobatically kept out by a fantastic save from Parish.
After the break it was more of the same as Hibs saw plenty of possession without carving out many opportunities.
Alex Gogic had an acrobatic effort that drifted over the St Johnstone crossbar early in the second half before Middleton was off target with a freekick at the other end.
In the 72nd minute Boyle collected a through ball from Irvine before slotting it through the legs of Parish only to have his celebration curtailed by the offside flag.
Two minutes later Doidge got his head to a corner kick from Newell but could only send his effort wide of Parish’s near post.
St Johnstone introduced the experience of Murray Davidson, Craig Conway, Stevie May, David Wotherspoon and Shaun Rooney in the final 20 minutes to try and see the game out.
Hibs continued to huff and puff looking for a way through the sea of yellow shirts and had Nisbet been on the field they may have profited from a Boyle cross driven across the face of goal, however today, there were no takers.
In time added on St Johnstone almost snatched a second goal as Rooney was played in behind Lewis Stevenson by May and his low cross was only just out of the reach of Wotherspoon.
Hibernian: Marciano, Hanlon, Porteous, McGinn, Wright (Magennis 62’), Doidge (Stevenson 78’), Boyle, Newell (Bradley 78’), Gogic (Hallberg 71’), Doig, Irvine. Substitutes not used: Macey, Gray, McGregor.
St Johnstone: Parish, Kerr, Gordon, McCart, Booth, Bryson (Davidson 82’), McCann, Middleton (Conway 71’), Kane (May 78’), O’Halloran (Wotherspoon 78’), Brown (Rooney 82’). Substitutes not used: Wills, Gilmour, Melamed.
Referee: Greg Aitken.
Words: Richard Payne
The Man of the Match award, sponsored by Eden Mill, was given to Christian Doidge.
Happy Hibee number is 26.